Gary Johnson was interviewed on October 8, 2018 by Robert W. (Bob) King in the home of Gary's daughter, Katie Ringsmuth, in Eagle River, Alaska. LaRece Egli was also present during the interview operating the audio recorder and she asks a few questions at the end. In this interview, Gary talks about his work with Alaska Packers Association canneries in Alaska and serving as superintendent at the <NN> Cannery in South Naknek, Alaska. Gary discusses his job duties as superintendent, how he kept the facility operational, and good relastionships he maintained with employees, quality control inspectors, fishermen, government regulators, other canneries, and the local residents of South Naknek. He emphasizes the importance of the local spring/fall crews in maintaining the infrastructure and opening and closing all the facilities each season, and how much he enjoyed spending time with the community. He also discusses segregation of mess halls, disputes over the price of fish, and other challenges of the job, as well as why he found the work so rewarding. Gary feels a deep connection with the <NN> Cannery and the people he worked with.
Digital Asset Information
Project: <NN> Cannery History Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Oct 8, 2018
Narrator(s): Gary Johnson
Interviewer(s): Robert W. King
Transcriber: Emily Mueller
People Present: LaRece Egli
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Coming to Alaska and first jobs in the canning industry
Getting hired as bookkeeper by Alaska Packers Association
Becoming assistant superintendent, and developing the skills to run a cannery and keep it clean
Role of the cannery store in remote communities
Working with old-timer, Alf Nelson
Remembering Dicky Day, and working with Norm Rockness, superintendent at
His management style and not always getting along with bosses
Keeping the cannery operational and focusing on the people who worked there
Managing a large crew of employees, and planning for each season
Firing an employee
Segregated mess halls
Keeping employees busy and happy, and volleyball tournament fundraiser
Technological changes in the canning process and the making of cans
Development of the Egg House as a new sector in the canning industry
Local South Naknek residents who worked at the cannery
Role of women employees
Hiring teachers as seasonal workers
Relationship with fishermen
Disputes between fishermen and canneries over fish prices, and setting fish prices
Relationship with Alaska Department of Fish and Game, regulators, and fishery scientists
Different opinions with bosses about how to run the cannery
Conflict with Chuck Bundrant of Trident Seafoods over hiring of fisherman, and construction of helicopter pads at
Rewards and challenges of the job
Importance of personal relationships with people at the cannery
Spending time in Washington during the off-season, and gearing up again for the start of another year
Segregation of Filipino, Alaska Native and Caucasian employees, and hiring of local people
Importance of spring/fall crews opening up and closing down the cannery buildings
Role of mechanics and machinists in keeping the equipment operational, and communicating with local residents about cannery improvements
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BOB KING: Alright. GARY JOHNSON: Ok. BOB KING: This is Bob King, and -- and Gary Johnson. We're doing an interview, actually, for the -- an oral history interview for the
BOB KING: And we're gonna talk about the history of the
The intent of this is just to gain more historical data about -- about the history, the people who worked at it, and -- and the like. But the intent of the recording is to share with the university and other researchers, writers, scholars, and the like, and the interested -- interested public.
The university may make this available publicly, through -- through the var -- various programs. There's a lot of interest in -- in a lot of in -- interest in oral -- oral histories from ar -- around -- around the state.
And we'll have -- we'll -- we haven't printed it out, but we'll have you sign a release form at the -- GARY JOHNSON: Mm-hm, ok. BOB KING: -- at the end. But again, this is totally voluntary on your part -- GARY JOHNSON: Ok. BOB KING: -- and you're free to -- if you choose -- don't wanna answer a question, or -- or whatever, it's -- it's a --
GARY JOHNSON: Well, when you talk about history, I didn't think I was that old! BOB KING: (Laughs) GARY JOHNSON: So, what kinda history do I have?
BOB KING: Well, you -- you've, actually, it's -- I mean, the stories th -- that people tell, and the -- the -- they remember are -- are really important. And, I mean, just yesterday, when we were --
Did I give the date? It's October 8th, 2018, and it's a little after 3 in the afternoon. We're at Katie Johnson Ringsmuth's home in Eagle River. And -- And the like. So, all that's good? GARY JOHNSON: Mm-hm.
BOB KING: Well, lets go, and, let's start. And -- And first, it's -- We've talked a couple times just -- just yesterday, and I was also down in Ar -- passing through Arizona a few years ago, and we -- we chatted about -- about the history, and there are a lot of Alaskans, especially interested in the history of the -- the fishing industry itself, and -- As well as the um, uh -- and some of the specific canneries, including the
But first to get started, tell me a little bit about yourself, where you grew up. You said you grew up on a farm, right? GARY JOHNSON: Yeah. I was born and raised in Centralia, Washington. And it's just south of Olympia a little ways. And, that's where I went to grade school, and from there I --
My dad worked in the woods, in addition to havin' a farm, so I'd get up in the morning and go down and -- and get the eggs -- the egg house, and feed the cattle. Get those ready fer milkin' at night and stuff like that.
And then, my grandfather was a Dairy Farmer of the Year in Washington. And so, I spent a lotta time on a farms.
But really, most of the time I was in the river, swimmin'. I -- I -- I worked, but, you know, not like you'd think a -- a rigor farmer would work, 'cause I wasn't very old, then. I was probably about ten to twelve years old, so, you know, I was goofin' off more than anything, so --
BOB KING: But then you moved to other communities? GARY JOHNSON: Then I moved to -- From there, we went up to Port Angeles, and my dad was -- had a sawmill up there. And, we --
He burnt out, and so we moved to Port Townsend after that, and he bought a bowlin' alley. So I spent most of my time helpin' out in the bowlin' alley.
So before school I'd go and clean it up and get it ready, the -- do the alleys and dress the alleys, and -- and wait on customers.
And then during the summertime, my mom and dad would take off for vacation and I'd be left al -- not left alone, but I'd be left responsible for the bowlin' alley. So all the people, and gettin' the machines ready to go and if there's any breakdowns, hopefully I could fix 'em, but most the time, you know, I had to wait until dad got home. But --
And then, I went to start college, and my roommate, of all people, his name was Denny Andrews, was from Kodiak Island. And then, all of a sudden, we heard -- De -- and Denny did, is, an earthquake in Alaska. And that was the year of the earthquake, and I believe that was 1964? BOB KING: Correct.
GARY JOHNSON: And -- So -- Anyway, we were -- Denny had to go back home, because, you know, he lived in Kodiak where the big seiners were right up in the middle a town. And --
So, we listened to the news and everything like that, and they said, "Stay out of Alaska. Stay out of Alaska. There's no jobs." You know, as the earthquake and all, and tidal waves.
So, anyway, I had a hundred dollars in my pocket and a roundtrip ticket to Alaska. And I went up there, and I went to work at 8 o'clock the following morning for Kodiak King Crab. You know, right in Kodiak. Was packin' crab.
So I did that, and -- and I figured it up that the only money I was gonna make was maybe the last week I was there. And I was be -- I gotta spend another almost two months here, and I was only gonna make a -- enough money in one week?
So anyway, I went down to job services and applied for packin' fish for Fish and Game. Well, I don't know if you realize, but when you work for a government, you have to fill out a million pieces of paper.
And I was just getting' ready to finish the last one, and the lady from job services came in and says, "Gary, there's a job out at Larsen Bay as a storekeeper. Would you be interested? It's free room and board."
And that's all I heard, was free room and board. I didn't -- I didn't care how much money I was gonna make or anything like that. All I knew was I was gonna be fed.
So anyway, go out there, and after about a week, we got our -- they had our timecards and stuff like that. I found out I was makin' less than minimum wage. And so they had to bump us up, and I -- that summer I was makin' a dollar nine an hour. And --
And I worked oh, for about -- oh, I think about two and a half months. And -- In the store during the day, and then goin' out in the cannery and -- and workin' the tail off at night when nobody else was around,. You know, 'cause I was not very old, you know, I think I was 18, 19 years old.
And so I worked all that time, and I took home little over a thousand dollars. I made more money in Larsen Bay in that short period of time than I did in Port Townsend workin' the Crown Z (Crown Zellerbach) paper mill. For the whole summer. And I thought it was pretty good, you know, and here I --
So that was my start in the fish industry. I -- We were helpin' out seiners, you know, and -- and puttin' up grocery orders.
In those days, you know, you're talkin' about 1963, 4. And I was puttin' up 300, 400 dollar orders for grub for just five guys to go out fer a fishing period.
And, you know, it was -- it was a lotta fun, you know. Well, you know, we'd -- we'd have like a -- we'd mark the -- a produce, or the cans, you know like, three for a dollar. And the normal price was 33 cents anyway. And we -- Three for a dollar. So we --
We did a lotta screwy bad -- not real bad things, but that's one thing I can remember that we did. And the guy looked at it and he says, "It's three for a dollar, and you ch -- and the normal price is 33 cents? How -- What's the deal here?"
So, anyway, we used to have a lotta fun, and we'd catch halibut off the end of the dock. I mean, lord, there was one that was taller than me. Had to pi -- pull it up with a winch on the -- one of the seiners.
And then we'd go out on the dock and take our fishin' poles, and fish for humpys. And they'd be schoolin' up around there. And we'd catch humpy.
We must catch 25, 30 fish during lunch hour. You know, off the end of the finger -- or the dock. Not the dock, but the -- or the ramp, or -- where the waves were.
And we had Gooses (Gruman Goose), which is a amphibious airplane, would come in, and they'd come up and we'd have to go down and help mail.
'Cause the mail was held in the office -- or in the store, and so the storekeeper was the mail clerk on top of everything. She worked for the post office and for the store.
And I was only an assistant storekeeper. So I wasn't even called a storekeeper.
So anyway, I went back to Larsen Bay for three years, and then from there I was in Bellingham, Washington. My wife just graduated from Seattle U, and we moved up to Bellingham.
And I was goin' to school at the Western Washington state school up there. And lo and behold about, oh, January, February, somewhere around there, ran outta money. So, I was eatin' oatmeal for three weeks.
And so, anyway, I drove from Bellingham, Washington up to Blaine, Washington, the home of Alaska Packers, whose I worked for in Larsen Bay.
And I says, "Do you have any jobs?" And they says, "Sure, we have a job. You -- We can send you up as an assistant bookkeeper in Naknek, Alaska.
So I went up there. Jim Cannavan (sp?) was my bookkeeper. And I helped him do the books for that first year, and then they promoted me and I was the head bookkeeper in Pilot Point the next year. And that was -- that was probably '68.
And then in '69, I went back to Naknek as a -- oh no, back to Egegik as a head bookkeeper, and I was there that year.
And then, I stayed in Blaine for a couple years because they said you couldn't take families to Alaska. And I says, "Well, if I can't take family to Alaska, I'm not gonna go."
So anyway, couple years later they changed the rules and they sent me to Naknek as the head bookkeeper. And I took my daughter and she slept in this 48-tall salmon box. That's where she -- 'cause her crib didn't make it on the tender to get it up there by the time we got up there. So she spent her first summer in a salmon box sleepin.' (According to Gary's daughter, Katie Ringsmuth was five years old at the time he went to Naknek as the head bookkeeper, so she was too big to have slept in a salmon box. And when her sister Bridget was a baby, he was already superintendent not head bookkeeper.) BOB KING: (Laughs) GARY JOHNSON: And I don't know if that's why she was so interested in fish salmon.
But anyway, I spent a of couple years as a bookkeeper, and then they made me assistant superintendent at Naknek.
And Tom Takeoka was the superintendent in those days, and he -- His original job before he came to Alaska Pack -- or to Alaska Packers, he was -- worked for Food and Drug (U.S. Food and Drug Administration).
So, since I was the assistant superintendent and he was the superintendent, he wanted me to learn things that Food and Drug would come and talk about. So, he sent me to possibly every school that you could possibly go to.
You know, I learned how to clean up cannery, sm -- smell fish. I -- I went to a -- a school to -- you know, ya -- you had to train your nose. And I had one of the more sensitive noses in the industry, 'cause I could smell rotten fish.
I remember one time at the cannery, we -- was just before the season started, I walked down the Fish House, and we had processed a few kings, and butchered 'em by hand and that was about it. We hadn't operated any of the machines, but --
But I walked in and I could smell fish. And I -- So I had the cleanup crew clean up the Fish House again. And so they got it all cleaned up and they called me back down, and I come down there, and I could still smell rotten fish.
So I said, "What in the heck?" So anyway, they looked around, looked around, and they found what happened was a head of one of the kings that we butchered had hung up in the dury trough (sp?). And there -- And it was rotting under there. Had hung up on one of the edges of the flume.
And so we all kinda patted ourselves on the back and they took care of it, and cleaned it up better. Never had any problem with that, and those kids did a good job the rest the season. Never had to worry about smellin' fish again.
BOB KING: That's a great nose you have. GARY JOHNSON: Yeah, oh yeah. Well, I used to say, you know, and invite people into the mess hall to have dinner, or whatever, lunch, and I says, "Look, if we go out to the -- outside the cannery, if we go into the cannery and if you can smell fish, any kind of fish, I'll buy you dinner." Because fresh fish has no odor, believe it or not.
And so, you know, you go in the cannery, and we had no -- Now if ya stepped outside and looked over the docks and stuff like that, you could smell fish, because they're floatin' up and down the river.
But you go in the cannery, and you could not smell fish. Not in my cannery anyway.
'Cause we had some of the good and best cleanup kids there were. They spent a lotta time -- You know, they'd go work, you know, at midnight after we're done canning, and then they'd get done by, oh, 6 o'clock in the morning if they're lucky.
BOB KING: Yeah. GARY JOHNSON: You know, and -- BOB KING: Yeah.
GARY JOHNSON: They -- They always did a good job. BOB KING: That's great. GARY JOHNSON: Yeah.
BOB KING: Yeah. Let me back you up just a little bit and talk about your-- when you're working as a -- a -- a -- as a bookkeeper, and in places like Pilot Point and Egegik. And -- And -- And -- And Larsen Bay. But --
What's the role of the -- the cannery store in remote communities like that? Don't they have an important -- important role? Where -- They're -- They're no Walmarts. And --
GARY JOHNSON: Yeah. Well, basically, yeah, they are. 'Cause when we ran our stores in Pilot Point and the other one. You know, we had traps for sale, we had ammunition, we had guns. Shotguns and thirty-ought sixes (306's) and stuff like that.
You know, it was a Walmart. You know, we had -- sure, we had groceries and cans -- Del Monte, mainly. Fruit and vegetables and stuff like that.
But we had all the other stuff and we had battery chargers, and -- and, you know, power saws, and --
You know, basically anything you could probably buy at a Walmart, even more so, we sold it in the company stores.
And, you know, Ray Soterland (sp?) was -- he was in charge of the stores for Alaska Packers during the early days. And he had a nickname. They called him "Sota Pop" (sp?). Dicky Day, who was the winterman at Egegik, tagged Ray Soterland as -- as -- They called him "Sota Pop".
'Cause he always ordered soda pop, you know. And he had it there at the cannery, so -- It was one of those things that, you know, we -- I finally just remembered it, just a second ago when you asked me about the stores.
BOB KING: Right. Well, yeah. They really bo -- played a -- played a big role in -- in -- GARY JOHNSON: Oh yeah.
And then at the end of the season, we'd have grubsteaks. And they'd give us a big leg -- uh, list of stuff, and one of the jobs of the assistant storekeeper, we had to go through and put all this stuff together.
And, you know, you're talkin' 'bout -- In the old days, I don't know how much the dollar was worth as opposed today, but, you know, you're talkin' 'bout 3 or 4 thousand dollars a grubsteaks sometimes.
And, of course, we'd take it right off the fish pay, and -- But, you know, that's a lotta -- lotta food. Because they had to last 'em for the whole winter.
And you know, the Alaskan people, you know, they didn't have just one kid, they usually had two or three. Or more like five or six.
So, you know, they -- they had -- and then they had aunts and uncles, and -- and stuff like that, so they went through a lotta food.
And the better fishermen had bigger grubsteaks. BOB KING: Yeah. GARY JOHNSON: Yeah.
BOB KING: Yeah. Tell me about some of the people who you met. You -- You mentioned Alf Nelson. GARY JOHNSON: Yeah, Alf Nelson was a -- he was a superintendent in the bay, prior to me meetin' him.
And then, I don't know exactly why, but he ended up in Larsen Bay as kind of a -- a superintendent assistant. Because Pete Marikovich (sp?) was the superintendent, and Alf was there helpin' him.
And at night, after 9 o'clock, we'd always sit around the table and play poker. And Alf Nelson was one of THE poker players.
And we'd play poker until about midnight. You know, no -- nothin's big gambling games and stuff like that. And it wasn't penny ante, it was nickel-dime stuff.
But he (beeping noise) would always talk about Bristol Bay. That's all he would talk about, was Bristol Bay. How they did this, how they did that.
And, you know, we didn't get sick and tired of it because we enjoyed him. You know, and he was -- he was neat to listen to.
And he would tell us about some of the old fishermen, how they'd go out. Sam Pepetti (sp?) would go out and nobody would be catchin' fish or anything, and he'd go out there and look around and he'd throw his net overboard and sink it, right away.
You know, and nobody else would be catchin' fish and here's Sam Pepetti (sp?) would load up. And, you know, and stuff like that, you know.
And it -- It was just really neat to listen to the guy. And like I say, the -- So, I was -- When I met Alf I was probably -- That was the second year I was up there, so I was 19 and very impressionable, and I wanted to learn as much as I could.
And I listened like a little kid fer everything he said, you know.
And -- and he gave me some pictures, years later, when he owned -- they bought Egegik from Alaska Packers. And he was in charge of it.
And he gave me some pictures of the old sailing ship days when they were goin' out to sea. And the -- the -- What -- They -- The sailing ship, with the three masts -- you know, what're they called, schooners? BOB KING: Bark. GARY JOHNSON: Barks? BOB KING: Yeah.
GARY JOHNSON: But anyway, there was four of 'em that had been leavin' Bristol Bay at that time. And they were headed for San Francisco. And he give me a picture of that.
BOB KING: Oh, that's good. GARY JOHNSON: I can still remember it.
And I -- You know, I -- I'm not sure exactly, but I'm pretty sure he passed away here a few years ago, so --
BOB KING: I -- You mentioned Dicky Day, and I -- I -- I never met him, but I actually have one of his hats. GARY JOHNSON: Uh-huh. BOB KING: From Egegik. I think is Egegik 1981.
GARY JOHNSON: Wh -- When it was Diamond E? BOB KING: Right. GARY JOHNSON: Yeah.
But I remember one time, I was sittin' there, workin' on my books. This was -- I was a bookkeeper in Egegik. And Dicky Day comes rushin' into my office and he says, "Gary! Gary! They're gettin' ready to take sa -- maple bars outta the oven."
And, you know, I'm -- when I say oven, they're great, big things. You know, they're -- they go up and around, and up and through. By the time they come out they're cooked.
But anyway, we went there, and there was three of us. No, four of us. And we started eatin' maple bars. I ate twelve maple bars. And I came in third place! So -- And Dicky was ahead of everybody.
BOB KING: I see a maple bar over there, actually if you wanted, but -- GARY JOHNSON: Yeah.
BOB KING: But, nope, that's -- that -- that -- that's really great. Who else was I gonna ask about?
Well, anyway, when did you become -- Oh -- Oh, Norm Rockness. GARY JOHNSON: Right. BOB KING: That I wanted to talk about. GARY JOHNSON: Ok.
BOB KING: He was -- He was the superintendent when you first joined -- GARY JOHNSON: Was the bookkeeper. Yeah. BOB KING: Yeah. At -- At the
GARY JOHNSON: Yeah. I was there from, let's see, '67, '68, '69. And then, it was -- I stayed a couple years in Blaine when they wouldn't let families go north, and then I went back.
And I believe it was probably '70. Somewhere around there. That I went back to Naknek as a bookkeeper. And Norm -- Norm Rockness was the superintendent.
BOB KING: Tell me about Norm. GARY JOHNSON: Uh, well, I shouldn't say. Norm Rockness -- they -- everybody talked about Norm Rockness. How he was THE superintendent.
He was the longest tenderin' superintendent that Alaska Packers ever had, and he did this stuff, and that way.
Well, come to find out, by the time I got done, I spent four more years as a superintendent than Norm Rockness ever did. And -- So -- But, his -- He had a boy, his name was -- Oh god, I forget.
But he was a airline pilot for Alaska Airlines. And he was about my age, and he and I used to have a lotta fun. 'Cause he -- he would come up and fish a little conversion (a sail boat that has been converted to a power boat) that Norm Rockness owned, and it was called "The Rock."
And Pete would -- Oh, it was Pete Rockness. And Pete would get that boat and go out and fish and catch fish.
He was not a good fisherman, but he wasn't a bad fisherman. But, you know, he'd come up after puttin' in some time on the airplanes, and -- and then he'd go out and fish for a little while, and then he'd pick up his -- well, his dad would pick up the boat and put it in the warehouse, and Pete would fly home and start flyin' airplanes. Big ones. So. But.
BOB KING: You mentioned earlier Tom Takeoka. GARY JOHNSON: Oh, yeah. BOB KING: Yeah. And he was the quality control guy who became superintendent after Norm, right?
GARY JOHNSON: Yeah, right. Yeah. Yeah. He -- He was the superintendent right after Norm. After Norm passed away.
And he's the one that sent me to all these quality control classes and -- Fish and Game, and -- BOB KING: Right. GARY JOHNSON: And all -- everything I can remember.
The only thing that was really neat about it is we ate ourself up and down the West Coast. 'Cause Tom loved to stop in to restaurants and have -- have lunch and stuff like that. He didn't put on any weight, but we just -- you know, we'd --
And he was a good cook. He -- he knew about Burger King as bein' better than McDonalds, because they had a flame broil. And, you know, that's why -- I -- I learned how to eat hamburgers. I used to eat hamburgers with -- from Burger King as opposed McDonalds, 'cause McDonalds was fried, and he didn't like fried. And --
And so, that's the way we ran our cannery, too. So --
And, he taught me a lot, and sent me to enough schools that I learned. Hopefully, I learned quite a bit. But when we had people -- And my supervisors at the cannery, they did the things --
I made the joke, they either did it my way or the highway. Well, my way was way I was taught with the Food and Drug and -- and all the buyers from the Orient, and -- or the U.K. would come over and -- and give us thoughts and ideas on how to do things.
So, I was takin' all this stuff in as the su -- as assistant superintendent, as well as assistant -- or, superintendent.
And, like I say, all the people that worked for me, I tried to pass on all the information that I had. And like I said, and joked, it was either my way or the highway.
And what I really should say: It was either the right way or, you know -- Because the quality control people were responsible, and they had things to do.
And my -- my machinist boss, the quality control people, they all were answering to me. And they backed me up. And I backed them up.
And so, when they had problems in the cannery, if they couldn't handle it themselves, guess who they came to? And, you know, we -- we made sure we got it done.
And we'd -- normally we didn't have any problems because everybody was on the same boat. BOB KING: Yeah.
GARY JOHNSON: We wanted to do that, we wanted to make that cannery -- We took a cannery that wasn't what you would call really a good one, and made it one of the better canneries in Bristol Bay.
And, we had people that were very proud of that. And one of 'em was their superintendent. So, it --
We had a lotta praise from the buyers and -- And I used to say that, you know, when the buyers came in, I used to -- or, if, when Food and Drug would come in, I'd say -- whisper, "Food and Drug's here." So they'd go around and tell all my supervisors that Food and Drug was here, we gotta make sure we do things right.
Well, lo and behold, somebody would drop a fish on the floor and throw it back on the sliming table, or whatever. And that wasn't the way they were taught. So, after about, two or three trips, of the -- goin' this way, I finally decided, I'm not gonna tell anybody when Food and Drug was there.
So, after that, never had any problem, because the people did it -- they -- they were taught, which was the right way. And so, we never had any trouble with Food and Drug or people --
Yeah, they'd drop fish on the floor, but they washed 'em off and did it right way to put -- before them put 'em back on the sliming table. So.
BOB KING: Sounds like they were -- when -- during the year that Tom was superintendent, they were sort of grooming you for the job. GARY JOHNSON: Well, I don't know about that. I think I got it because nobody else wanted it. But -- No, I -- I think they mighta been doin' it.
BOB KING: Sounds like they were sending you -- GARY JOHNSON: I know Tom -- Tom was very encouraging. And --
But some of my bosses and I didn't see eye to eye on everything. You know, and a lot of it was what I was taught, and what Tom taught me. And what they didn't know, you know.
And it -- It's kinda aggravating, you got a boss comin' in and tryin' to tell ya what to do, and it's wrong. You know, and that's why when I ran the cannery, I -- hopefully, I never got in anybody's face, you know, unless they were, you know.
But we had supervisor's meetings. Every day at 11:07. And all my floor supervisors, whether they were in the can shop, the Fish House, Egg House, whatever, they were always required to come to that meeting.
And they had downtime reports, and reports that they filled out at the end of the day.
And so what I'd do is I'd go -- at night I'd go through all of these, and I'd pick out somethin' on everybody -- not everybody, but somebody's downtime report or whatever.
And then, during the supervisor's meeting, I'd ask 'em about it. And, you know, just have 'em explain it to me. And the -- so everybody filled out -- our -- our -- their paperwork the way they were supposed to, and we had --
At 11:07, everybody knew where I was. My office staff and everything like that.
So, when my bosses, or Mr. Bundrant, would call up and wanna know where I was and it was 11:07, they said, "He's at a s -- supervisor's meeting."
And nobody interrupted my supervisor's meeting. Because that's was where the whole cannery was brought together every day, and we dealt with our problems that we had.
And we'd -- we'd -- most of the time, when -- we'd start at 11:07, and we wouldn't even get done until lunchtime.
And then we'd go to lunch, and then come back, and then they'd start -- start their business. And --
And we did that -- oh, I don't know, for how many years I was superintendent, but probably after about, mm -- I didn't start it until about the fourth or fifth year I was the superintendent. So -- BOB KING: Mm.
GARY JOHNSON: 'Cause you can't change and do everything all at once. You know, especially when you have supervisors and -- and head people that were bosses that didn't read or write English. And it makes it tough.
You know, you -- You say, well, give 'em a downtime report, they had no idea what we were talkin' about. You know, and you're supposed to look at your watch and say how long the machine wasn't runnin', and try to explain it, and if not then you -- we take it to the machinist boss and say, "Hey, you were down for five minutes at such and such (inaudible), and they said it was because of this and this. What -- What was the problem?"
So, you know, whether it was lack of fish, a cans got jammed, you know, stuff like that.
So, we all worked together to find out the problem, and like I say, we tried to make sure that that machine was runnin' a minimum of 80 percent. Everyday, all day long. All the machines.
If it wasn't runnin' 80 percent, we had somethin' down on the downtime report to try to explain it why it wasn't runnin' 80 percent.
But most of the time, quote unquote, it was always better than 80 percent.
BOB KING: Tell me -- Yeah, no, it sounds like there's never an average day at the -- at -- at the cannery, but -- What was your routine like as -- as a cannery superintendent, to keep it operational, to keep your people happy, or to keep -- to -- to ma -- to -- to keep the -- to keep it working?
GARY JOHNSON: Well, basically, it's hard to say. It's from you -- you got people problem. Or, try to keep the people, and supervisors that keep the people happy.
And the biggest thing I found out is, leave 'em alone and let 'em do the job. I hire these people to do a job.
So, what I did is try to stay outta their way, and let 'em do what they were hired to do. And that's usually what happened.
You know, if they had problems, they'd come to me. If they had any problems with their employees or somethin' like that, they come to me.
But if they were doin' their daily routine maintenance and job, I didn't wanna know what they were doin'. All I wanted to to know is, was the machines doin' 80 percent? Or better?
And was the people happy? Because they had to work with the people on the line and keep them happy, so, you know, they had to wear safety goggles all the time. Hairnets, they had to have their hairnets in place. They had to have their boots on. You know, it's -- And, so, I couldn't go down and patrol all that stuff.
And my quality control people were -- were checkin' the seams in the cans and stuff like that, so they really didn't have time. But my machinists who were watchin' the machines, they could watch the people and see. So, they had to work with the people, too.
So, it wasn't just one person. It was everybody. Everybody workin' together. So --
BOB KING: And it was a big -- And it was a big crew. I think one -- when we were talking earlier, I think you once described being superintendent as being the mayor of a city.
GARY JOHNSON: Well -- Yeah, well, my -- We had 350 employees. And -- But they weren't all in the cannery.
There was very f -- 'Cause we had -- We had six guys in the beach gang, we had five carpenters, we had 12 cooks and -- and waitresses. We had seven people workin' in the office, and -- You know, I don't know if those numbers are exact, but, you know, that's --
We had people lot all over the place, you know. We just didn't have 350 people in the -- in the cannery.
You know, but -- I could -- if I had my paperwork here -- 'Cause they -- I think they threw it away. I hope they didn't -- I could tell you exactly how many we'd be. How many it took to run each line.
So, at the beginning of the season, you'd have to -- You'd get all the information from Food and Drug, I -- not Food and Drug, Fish and Game, on the prediction of the run.
So, then you'd go back and you'd have to try to guess, and that -- It was a guess, we'd have money bets on the size of the fish. So, that meant how many pounds of fish were gonna be.
So, you have to figure out how many days of processing, and how many fishing periods we're gonna get. So how many pounds of fish -- So, that --
You had to go through and figure out how many cans you're gonna need. Ok. You got a slimer. Ok, what's he put on his hands? Gloves, right? Ok, how many pairs of gloves do you wear in a 12-hour period?
Okay, you have to figure that out, and you multiply that by how many cannery kids you got working on the canning line. How many canning lines you're gonna run that year? Two and a half? Or one and a half, or two. You know, and --
So, you know, you have to go -- you have to have aprons for everybody. You had to have boots for everybody. You had to have hairnets for everybody.
And, the m -- machinists had to have earplugs for everybody. And, you know, there's things like that.
But then, that's when the superintendent come ‘round, and he saw somebody that didn't have their hairnet on, or didn't have that -- They got in trouble. So --
But I always had support, too. So, it wasn't just me bein', oh, I don't know, God or whatever you wanna call 'em. But, you know -- They --
My cannery people would see me bein' politely askin' 'em where their hairnet was, or somethin' like that. And if they didn't have it, they had to go back and get it. Alright.
And so, my machinists that were standin' right behind me heard me talkin' to the kids that way and the kids on the line heard me talk.
In fact, a lotta times, I'd go down and patch on the patching table along with the kids. You know, and I'd make sure I had my hairnet, and my hat on, and stuff like that, and my gloves, and -- And, of course, I didn't have boots, you know -- Well, I had boots, but you know, there were -- well, they were rubber, like (inaudible), and then leather for (inaudible). I don't know exactly what they were called, but that's what I wore.
And -- But -- You know, I didn't -- I didn't really -- I -- I -- There was one guy I really had problems with. And that was when I first started out.
And I -- I thought he stole. We had these great, big, beautiful clocks that we had for the retorts. And they keep time and they were hand wound, and I don't know exactly what the names of 'em were, but they were like big ship clocks.
And I swore this guy swiped it, and I ended up firing him.
And so, I was gettin' ready to send him out, and he was across my desk, and I was talkin' to him, and I had his cash advance to go home, and I had it settin' right there, and I said, "This is your cash advance."
And about that time the radio went off, and -- and, of course, I had to go in there and talk and -- and about ten minutes later I come back, and he -- the guy's sittin' there, and no -- no money.
I says, "What'd you do, put that money in your pocket?" "No, no, I didn't do it." Eeeh. Anyway, I didn't wanna do it.
So anyway, I got him on the airplane. Pen Air. Or, no, I think it was Tibbetts (George Tibbetts, Sr.), came and picked him up. Because it was Georgie that went --
And Georgie followed him, and he said, "Gary --" 'cause I give him -- I give him 100 dollar bills. You know, 200 dollar bills.
And Georgie said, "He went and cashed one of those 100 dollar bills at the store. When -- After we dropped him off, while he was waiting' for the plane -- his plane in King Salmon to go out."
So, I felt better, so -- And nothin' I could do about it at that time.
But, I -- At least I know exactly what happened. I -- I thought I knew what happened, and I was gonna fire him and proved -- It proved me right.
And, of course, Georgie and I used to -- he was -- mm, I think he's about the same age as I am. I'm not sure.
And I know a couple of times we went down to Port Heiden, or down that neck of the woods, and we'd fly back 'bout dust. And we'd fly below the high tide line. I mean, we were right on the deck, the wheels were almost in the sand, it seemed like.
And, we'd -- we did that about, oh, maybe twice a year. Just to get outta the cannery there for a while, so --
But other than that, he would -- he -- you know, he'd come in and take our people out, and -- well, all the pilots were great people, so --
BOB KING: Really? Right. You -- You worked very closely with all of your workers, and -- and -- and I remember the story that you liked to have -- share dinner or lunch -- or dinner with the Filipino crew, correct? GARY JOHNSON: Oh, yeah. I -- I used to always do that.
In fact, they tried to segregate the Filipinos from the white people, and -- BOB KING: There were separate bunk -- mess halls, right? GARY JOHNSON: No, mess halls.
And so, all -- a lotta the college kids would go down and eat with the Filipinos. And so, I went down there one day and -- and I says, "Ok, here's the deal. I cannot ha -- authorize you guys to have your own dining room here. And then you got kids comin' in and eatin', too."
I says, "This is strictly a no-no with all my bosses. Ok, here's the deal. If I hear one word from any-a-body, I'm gonna close it down."
And I says, "Fill my plate." So, I sit down, and we had dinner, and I never had any complaints from the Filipinos or from the college kids that used to go down there and eat all the time.
And they -- One big happy family. That's the way it was.
And so, you know, lotta times I'd go down there and eat. Because, you know, we had the "Blue Room," is where the superintendent and the bookkeeper and all those people ate.
And they were -- had -- not a cafeteria, but they had waitresses in the "Blue Room." Well -- But usually by the time I got down there, everybody was done in the "Blue Room," and I didn't wanna eat with the fishermen, 'cause the fishermen would come in after the half hour. That's when they'd let them in to start eatin'.
And then the other room, where the machinists and the quality control people, and beach gang and carpenters and all that would -- what they refer to as the "Pink Room," they were usually long gone, too, because they wanted to get back to the bunkhouse and catch a half-hour nap. You know, everybody did that.
I mean, you ate as fast as you could, and then catch a nap until you had to go back to work. And I'm not -- That's the way I was raised, and that's the way I started. So, you know, it didn't bother me. But --
So, I would go down, and -- because the Filipinos, they had certain guys that would linger behind and clean up. And, you know, and they would come up early and prepare the meals. You know, cook the rice and stuff like that.
We had a -- a Filipino cook, and then usually we had at least one helper to help him.
And I don't know if that was ever approved by all my bosses, but that's the way I did things. And we --
They would come out and -- and fix me a dinner, and I enjoyed it.
And I know my daughter ate down there more than one time. She was down there probably all the time. And lotta the other people. But it was just --
Like I say, it was one big -- We -- We had our squabbles, don't get me wrong, but it was basically a happy family, you know.
The only time we had real squabbles was during the volleyball games, you know, when it was, "Side out. I know that was out." You know, stuff like that.
BOB KING: I was just -- actually just getting -- getting -- getting to that, because one of -- one of the things you'd have to do was keep -- keep this crew busy and happy when -- before the season began, or -- GARY JOHNSON: Right, that's when --
BOB KING: Or if the -- the fish come in late, or -- or the run is weak, or -- or -- or there's a fishermen's price dispute or something. GARY JOHNSON: Well, basically, none of that stuff really happened. What --
What we really was tryin' to keep 'em busy was at pre-season. You know, they'd come in, and we'd build -- build egg (? sounds more like H boxes) boxes for eight hours a day. And do the cleanup. You know, they'd--
I'd make the people that worked in the cannery to come in and help clean up, you know, scrub everything down and stuff like that.
And we'd do painting. You know, they'd paint the machines and stuff like that. And, just, you know, basically findin' odd jobs for 'em. You know, have 'em cut grass, pick up garbage.
You know, in fact, I used to always make sure there was some garbage out when I was walkin' down the boardwalk. I'd make sure I picked it up and everybody could see me takin' -- throwin' it in the garbage can --
'Cause, you know, you see the superintendent do that, lotta people would follow order. So --
But, you know, a lotta this is just pure bragging on my part. So --
BOB KING: There's nothin' wrong with that, Gary. Don't -- Don't -- Don't worry. But the volleyball ball tournament was -- became famous, right?
GARY JOHNSON: Oh, yeah. Well, the first year we had it, we had, you know, five-man teams, and every -- every time a touch went on the other side, there had to be at least one -- you know, you get three touches on the side. And outta those three touches, one of 'em had to be a woman.
So, there was a woman on every team. And we put in -- I forget how much. It was 25, 30 bucks, maybe a little bit more. And the money was gonna go to the winners.
And, so, we -- we had a "Johnson Superintendent Dunk -- Dunkers," was our team name. And I think we had about 10 or 12 teams in this volleyball tournament.
And we had three nets in the big boat warehouse. And if the ball went up and hit in the rafters, it was a live ball. So if it hit the rafter and came down on your side, it was side out against you. Or of it went on the other side, it was side out against them. But it was a live ball, even though it hit the rafters.
And so, we got done. We didn't win, of course, but the fishermen won the tournament. And I think I --
I've told this story a million times. But we got up there to present the trophy. We had a homemade trophy for the fishermen. And I -- I don't know exactly where it is, but it is around here somewhere.
And, we presented the trophy to the third and fourth place team, and second, and then I presented the trophy to the fishermen that won.
And then I had an envelope with their money in it. And there must have been four, 500 dollars in there. Maybe -- Maybe more.
And so, I went and -- this is where KDLG came in. And, I says, "Ok, this is the money for the winners of the volleyball tournament. But, we are gonna donate this money to the South Naknek Children's Fund, Christmas fund."
And so, I gave the money -- It wasn't Junior at that time, I think -- I think it was either Clyde or maybe it was Carvel that I gave it to. Carvel, Sr. And --
So, they still have the same -- call it the same thing, the South Naknek Christmas Fund. And the fishermen's jaws just went eeeh. "What'd he do? What'd he do?"
But I heard maybe one person say somethin' right at that moment, but to this day, I have never heard one bad thing about what I did, BOB KING: Yeah. GARY JOHNSON: So --
BOB KING: You had the tournament every year though, right? GARY JOHNSON: Yeah, every year. Yeah. Until I was gone. Then I don't know what happened then. BOB KING: Right.
GARY JOHNSON: They did things different when I wasn't there.
BOB KING: I remember seeing the -- the trophy at -- in the -- in -- in the mess hall. GARY JOHNSON: Oh, is that where it was? BOB KING: I think so. GARY JOHNSON: Yeah, it could be.
BOB KING: And -- Yeah. And -- And, it's still there, right? GARY JOHNSON: Yeah. BOB KING: And -- And -- And with the names every year of -- of -- of the team that won. GARY JOHNSON: Mm-hm. BOB KING: So, it's -- it was -- it was really remembered.
GARY JOHNSON: Yeah, I don't think the "Super Dupers" ever won it. BOB KING: Was that your team? GARY JOHNSON: Yep. BOB KING: Yep. "Super Dupers," I love it. Um -- GARY JOHNSON: But usually I'd have more than one woman on my team (because he believed women were better at volleyball).
BOB KING: Tell me about the technological changes that you saw while you were superintendent. I mean, I can think of some. And -- And -- And --
And the one I'm kind of interested in. You don't have to talk about this. It didn't involve your cannery, but it had to do with the conversion from three piece cans to two piece, and -- and -- and -- and -- and the -- the botulism problems that affected other canneries that -- that made this change.
GARY JOHNSON: Yeah. Well, we -- Well, when you say two piece can or three piece can, well, we went -- We were one of the first cans that went to a two piece can. And basically, it was a -- like a Dixie Cup with a lid on it. BOB KING: Right.
GARY JOHNSON: And -- And they nested together. And when they came off the machines, they were just like, you know, on a -- a -- a spiral. And they'd just drop down, one at a time. And -- And they would -- We had -- I don't --
Well, we had the same problem as everybody else, you know, we had to go through and certify all the stuff. And, of course, you -- we had our machinists that always checkin' the seams on the cans. They were -- and the quality control, that was one of their big jobs, was checkin' the seams every --
I forget the timing on it, but I think it was every two hours that they'd have to go through and get a sample on every machine that was runnin' and tear 'em down and take the seams.
And, of course, my machinists, like Harvey Henry, was in the main -- he was the first machinist, so he was in the cannery, so he was constantly tearin' down seams. Checkin' them as we were processing during the day.
And then, wha -- the machinist that was upstairs in the can -- what they referred to as the can shop, he was doin' the same thing. He was tearin' down cans up there and lookin' at seams.
So, you know, everybody was lookin' and conscious of what was goin' on. And, you know -- And -- here -- here's the biggest detector there is of what -- of what a good can of fish is supposed to smell like, so --
BOB KING: He's pointing to his nose, just for -- But -- But that's true.
Are there other -- Any other technological changes that you can think of while -- GARY JOHNSON: Well, we had a --
We had a brand new seamer. And, it ran 600 cans a minute. A normal seamer in the -- well, even the present day, probably, ran 230 cans a minute.That's as fast as they would run. Because the --
BOB KING: And the seamer clin -- clinches the -- GARY JOHNSON: Yeah, that's the one -- put the lid on, and ra -- BOB KING: -- the -- the top -- the lid on it and it crimps around it. Yeah -- GARY JOHNSON: And ran the seam. Yeah. Right.
The seamer would only run 230 cans a minute. Well, the clincher ahead of it, that put the lid on it, ran 230 cans a minute. The machine, the filler, ran 230 cans a minute. Everything ran 230 cans a minute.
So, Gary comes in, he gets a new -- brand new machine, that runs 600 cans a minute. We got a little problem, right?
So, what we did is, we took two lines of 230 cans a minute, and ran 'em into the one seamer. And so, it -- it ran pretty good. I --
We had a few problems at the beginning of the season, but my machinists, they were good guys, and we ended up -- And to be honest with ya, after it really started runnin', you know, I forgot about it, to be honest with ya.
But where we saw this, is we went to Rainier Brewery. And this is where -- we -- Continental Can was the ones that supplied our canneries. Er, cans, for the cannery. And Continental Can also supplied the beer cans for Rainier. So, we wanted to see one of these high speed seamers and see how they work.
So, they took us down there. My machinists -- let's see, there was Bob Deere, Harvey Henry, Mick Connelly. And we were all went down there. There was about five of us.
And we went through this cannery. And here they are just runnin' cans as fast -- We couldn't visualize 600 cans a minute, but they were runnin' it.
So, we said, "What happens when you get a jam?" They says, "We have a lotta beer all over the place."
'Cause, you know, that's -- you end up havin' the jam no matter what, you know. It's just common nature, is somethin's gonna happen.
And so, that's when we asked the head brewmaster, we says, "If you were gonna buy beer, what kinda beer would you buy?" And he says, "See that line right there, where it's comin' outta that faucet, or spigot, into those bottles?" He says, "That's where I take it out, right there and take it home."
He says, "That's what you call the best beer there is. That's fresh."
BOB KING: That's a great story. One of the changes and -- I know that happened during the time that you've been with the industry was the development, really, of -- of the Egg House and the -- the egg product. 'Cause beforehand, the eggs were thrown away. GARY JOHNSON: Basically, yeah.
BOB KING: But -- But -- But this created a whole new sector for -- for the industry and profit for the company.
GARY JOHNSON: Yeah. Well our -- you know, the -- all the egg buyers are -- came in were Japanese, and so they would come in, and they would oversee the egg operation. You know, the quality, and how they were packed, and the weight and stuff like that.
And that's why I say, when I had Bob Sasaki and Yuk Yawata, who are both Japanese Americans, one of 'em was my egg crew supervisor and the other one was my Fish House supervisor. Which, the eggs went from the Fish House to the Egg House.
But both of 'em could speak Japanese, and so when we had interpreters there, or these technicians, they could talk to 'em. And say, "Ok, what do we do to make this right? Whaddaya need us to do to help out?"
And so, that's -- I didn't get involved with it, because I had people that I hired, that spoke the language, and they knew a heck of a lot more than I did. So, let 'em do the job. And they did. And it paid me dividends, year in and year out, because the first thing they did --
Well, they had a big group of technicians come over from Japan, and they wanted to see our cannery. And they didn't talk to me, they talked to Bob and -- and Yuk.
You know -- Well, they -- I shouldn't say that. Yeah, they did talk to me, but not specific, you know, how we do this thing, or whatever.
They knew that if they told me what to do, it'd get done. But they were the ones that were responsible to make sure it was done, and done the right way.
BOB KING: Mm-hm. Tell me about some of the other people who worked at the cannery who you -- who you remember. Particularly some of the local residents of South Naknek or Naknek, who -- obvi -- Carvel and Junior. GARY JOHNSON: Well, both 'em -- Well, all of 'em -- I hired -- almost all the people in South Naknek worked for me in what they call the spring/fall crew.
They worked in the spring gettin' the boats ready, gettin' the bunkhouses -- get the water in, makin' sure they were cleaned up, gettin' grub on the table. Helpin' the early boats get in there.
And we had a -- a ways (Marine ways used to store boats during the winter) down at Diamond O, so we'd pull tenders down there, so they went down there and launched the tenders in the springtime, and they patched piling.
You know, if we had a -- I should take out a few piling, they would -- if it was just one or two, the spring/fall crew would do it. But if not, my beach gang would have to do it. It was a bigger hole.
And they would just, you know, get the sewer system hooked up, ready to go. My spring/fall crew, they did everything, you know. And --
BOB KING: Are -- Are these people who -- who would -- who would actually, during the -- the peak of the salmon season, go out fishing? GARY JOHNSON: Yep, they were -- None of 'em would stay the ho -- at home.
Well, Carvel did. Well, he was one of the top -- my top fishermen. But some of the younger kids, they would work.
But all of 'em, almost all of 'em would go fishin' during the season. You know, come fishin' season, pfft -- there goes the spring/fall crew.
But they would be back, you know, in the fall when there's gettin' ready to pull the boats and put 'em all away and winterize all the bunkhouses, and put antifreeze in all the toilets, and makin' sure everything wouldn't freeze, there they were. They were there, waitin' for us.
And those were the guys we'd play basketball against. You know, they were mean. Boy, mean is right. So.
BOB KING: They -- But they filled a labor need for the cannery -- GARY JOHNSON: Oh yeah. BOB KING: -- without having to bring people in. GARY JOHNSON: Oh yeah. No, I had -- I had one of the -- I'd say one of the biggest spring/fall crews -- Well, not biggest, but more effective, I should say.
And, you know, they'd have to go into the boilers at the beginning the season and patch where the bricks had fallen off and stuff like that.
And the manhole that they had to crawl through to get in there -- And you're talk -- you know how big a boiler is. And, you know, you could get claustrophobia in there.
Well, Junior was the one that used to have to go in there all the time, until he got too big. Then he couldn't go in there.
So I don't know what happened after I left. Who they got to go in there or whatever. Because, I was not concerned about it. You know, that was --
I didn't want anything to know about it or anything like that, 'cause I put in my time, and it hurt me to know what was goin' on.
And, you know, those people were too special for me. So -- But we -- We -- The spring/fall crew, they -- they were well worth their weight in gold, so --
BOB KING: A lot of women worked at -- worked at the cannery -- GARY JOHNSON: Yeah. BOB KING: In -- In -- In different roles. GARY JOHNSON: Oh yeah. Yeah, I had -- There were forklift drivers, waitresses, semi -- uh, head --not head cooks, but baker.
My head baker was a woman. Her name -- she was a station agent for Alaska Airlines down in Port Heiden. Her and her husband. Her husband worked towards me as a -- a -- a provision man, and she worked as a baker.
And she'd make a hundred loaves of fresh bread a day. Minimum. Not -- That's not countin' all the desserts and stuff like that. And apple crisp for the superintendent that -- when he missed -- missed about the third or fourth meal, all a sudden, apple crisps would start showin' up on my office desk.
So -- Because I -- During the season, I probably missed, mm, almost every day, missed, oh, maybe all the meals.
And I would make midnight meal. 'Cause midnight meal, we used to -- you know, they'd try different things, you know, midnight meal.
Ok, whaddya serve in midnight meal? What we found out is you serve breakfast at midnight. And we had never had any problems after that.
'Cause we used to have steaks and pork chops and all that stuff. It was just too heavy. People didn't wanna eat that before they went bed -- to bed.
So, we start havin' breakfast. You know, cold cereal, fruit, vegetables, eggs and whatever. And people were happy. So --
And then they'd go to bed, and, of course, they had to get up early in the morning, 'cause they had to be there on the line by 8 o'clock.
Or machinists had to be there, ready to go, by fo -- five or six, you know, sometimes, to get the machines ready to go for the day. Time they greased 'em and oiled 'em and all that stuff. BOB KING: Yeah. GARY JOHNSON: So --
BOB KING: Yeah. Teachers, as employees. They are a -- a labor pool that's also available now during the -- during the su -- summertime. GARY JOHNSON: Yeah, right. As --
That was some of my key people were schoolteachers. Principals of high schools.
And some of 'em -- I started, when I was there between the time I was in Egegik and finally spent a couple years down here before I'd go to Naknek, I had baseball teams in Blaine. And all those kids on those baseball team -- We took and won the championship over in Lynden one year.
And every one of those kids on that baseball team ended up workin' in my cannery. Except for one. And --
And while the principal of the high school, his son -- I see him every once in a while and he still remembers me takin' him up there and havin' him drive forklift all the time. He -- He drove forklift on the beach gang. So, he did the takin' the piling back and forth and stuff like that. Heavy work.
But , yeah, the teachers -- it was great, because they would -- While they were going to school, they would be in the cannery workin', and they would kinda be promotin' themselves up the ladder, and then they would get done with their schooling, they'd go find a teaching job.
Well, how many teachers work during the summertime? Where do they work? They work at the cannery. It was a great job for them.
So, they came back, and -- You know, like I told you, some of my teachers worked for me for 16 years. I mean, time you get your -- your schooling, your f -- four, five years of school, and then you're -- when they first get out of school they have their fifth year they have to put in, and then they'd get their job.
You know, 16 years is not very long, really, when you talk about all the schooling that some of these people had to go through, so --
BOB KING: Hm-mm. As superintendent, what kind of relationship did you have with the -- the -- the fishermen? They stayed at the cannery bunkhouses, right? GARY JOHNSON: Uh, depends on what you call the fishermen. We had --
We had a bunkhouse for fishermen. And they would -- when they weren't fishin', they'd buy meal tickets and they'd eat in the mess hall. And they would --
So, the cannery crew would say, eat at 5 o'clock at night, and then the fishermen were allowed to come in at 5:30, and then they would eat their meal. And they -- they ate the same meal as the cannery did -- people did. There was no -- no discrepancy, no difference.
Same thing that my Filipinos the -- they ate the same food as everybody else, but with the "Blue Room" people, ate the same room as the -- food as the "Pink Room" people. And the sep -- I didn't, because I -- most of the time I wasn't there.
But anyway, the fishermen -- I -- I think, I'm -- I'm not really sayin', but I think I had a good relationship with all the fishermen. There was very few 'em that I didn't have a problem --
Because, if they had problems, guess who they had to come to? If they needed parts from Seattle, guess who they had to come to?
Well, the -- I -- my stockroom man would do it, but, of course, I had to authorize everything that was goin' on.
And -- And so, we would -- We would get the stuff. You know, we had 600 boats. How many parts do you need for 600 boats during the course of the season?
And, you know -- let's see, it was one of the Angasans. Oh, it was Fred Angasan, I think.
We went -- and for a whim, my stockroom and I were figurin' out -- the guy and I were figurin' out things to buy, to sell at the cannery. So we got smoke alarms -- carbon dioxide.
So, we got a couple, and we sold a few to the fishermen, and one of 'em was Ted Angasan. And he came in to me and he said, "Gary. There's somethin' wrong with my sm -- smoke detector." I says, "What's wrong?" He says, "It keeps goin' off every once in a while. I have to take and turn it off."
And so finally, I says, "Hey, here's the deal. You got a problem." I says, "You go git your boat, and bring it in, and we'll pull it up and I'll have the mechanics take a look at it." So he did, and we found a small leak in the exhaust system, and it saved his life.
And that's -- that's how come the Angasans and Gary Johnson get along together. 'Cause, you know, he told all of his brothers. You know, Ted Angasan, and Trefon Angasan.
You know, they -- they were usually kinda on the outskirts when I took over as a bookkeeper, because they didn't see too much with a Alaska Packers and stuff like that.
But, over the years, for me -- I don't -- In fact, I told Trefon one day, I said, "Trefon, this is the way it is. I'm gonna be here as long as you. So if you don't like it, tell me now, because that's the way it's gonna be."
And so, he and I became pretty good friends over the course of, you know, ten years that we went back and forth. So -- 'Cause he ended up a big monkey-monk in the, uh -- BOB KING: Native corporation. GARY JOHNSON: Yeah, Native corporation.
And so, you know, he would always come down and say hi when -- at the beginnin' of the season and stuff like that, you know. He never did before. But after that, you know -- Not --
We didn't -- We weren't buddy-buddies, you know, or anything like that. But we were friends. We'll put it that way. He -- We never said anything bad about either -- either of us. BOB KING: Right, right. GARY JOHNSON: So. Always tried to keep everything on a positive of that, and so --
BOB KING: There were difficult times with fishermen though, and I'm thinking in the early '80s when there were price disputes and -- and -- and -- and -- and -- and -- and the like. Were you as superintendent involved, or -- ? GARY JOHNSON: Well, most of that time, no. You know, the -- During --
BOB KING: I would expect the -- yeah, that the company -- GARY JOHNSON: During the Rockness era, he did it. So I --
You know, I was just a bookkeeper. I would -- I would talk to the fishermen and show 'em exactly where they bi -- they were makin' a bad mistake not acceptin' what they were gettin' offered, you know. I was more on the fishermen's side than my cannery side, but --
And then, after that, we -- you know, when I became a superintendent, I didn't worry about it, 'cause Bundrant is the one that set the fish price, not me. You know, so, what he did, I had to support, and, you know, he said, "Well, we're payin' a buck and a quarter for this fishing period, you know, that's -- " So, I'd tell my fish clerk we're payin' a buck and quarter. You know, it was --
I just had to make sure that I was makin' enough profit on my canned salmon to cover a buck and a quarter. So --
And sometimes it was kind of hairy, 'cause, like I say, at the beginning of the season, you know, I had to figure out how many gloves, how many sliming knives I know I'd need for the crew. How many cans I was gonna put up, how much fish I need, the price of the fish, so I had a different scale for different prices.
So basically, I knew if I was gonna make money before I even got to the cannery. Based on the information I had.
And like I say, lot of my information was from experience. You know, I'd bet with Fish and Game the size of the fish. To me, that was as meant -- as -- as important as how many fish we were gettin', was the size.
Because if -- if a 5.2 fish and a 4.9 fish, there's a lotta difference when you're puttin' 'em in a can. You know, there's a half pound right there. And a half-pounds were big sellers. So, you know, so -- It made a difference.
BOB KING: What kind of a relationship did you have with Fish and Game, the University of Washington scientists and the like, who -- who -- who regulated the fishery? GARY JOHNSON: Well, I think I had a unusual relationship with all of 'em. Because Fish and Game --
What I'd do is, at the beginning of the season, you know, they'd have certain things that they would tell me what they wanted done and stuff like that. I'd say fine. And so, I'd go up there.
And first thing d -- we'd do, is be -- to bet on the size of the run. A bet. Money, on the table. The size of the run.
The second bet was the size of the fish. Whether they were right or I was wrong. But, you know, what the size of the bet was? A nickel. Nothin' more than a nickel. We always -- That nickel became big deal.
And so, you know, Food and Drug -- the Fish and Game people, they were -- they were always welcome at my place. You know, and they came down and -- and we always tried to get our reports in as soon as we could.
We always prided ourself to be number one. To, you know, to get it in first. And we always tried to cooperate with those people.
BOB KING: Yeah. You mentioned the -- the name Ole Mathisen. GARY JOHNSON: Ole, yeah, from the University of Washington. BOB KING: Right. GARY JOHNSON: Yeah. Yeah, I --
Well, I was -- what was it, '95? Was -- I was in the boating accident in Florida. And I spent -- Well, lost a ear from a prop of the boat. And I died three times, once on a hospital, once on the way to the first hospital -- No.
Once on the dock, once on the way to the first hospital, and once the way to the second hospital. So, I died three times in about a -- matter about six or eight hours, somethin' like that.
So, I was down there, and the reason I was down there, I was visiting somebody. I won't say who she was, but she was --
Anyway, I was down there, and University of Washington had an airplane down there. And they found out that I was in the hospital, and so they took me in a stretcher and put me on the university airplane and sent me back, 'cause Ole said to do it. Ole Mathisen.
Because I -- we worked with him, you know, same as I did with Fish and Game. You know, I didn't bet with Ole on the side of the fish, but you know, that was one of the things we always talked about.
But -- Because, to me, it was important to know the size of the fish, because I had to know -- Or, I tried to guess, 'cause it made a big difference on how I geared up the cannery, and how many cans I would buy, and how much salt I'd have to buy, and stuff like that.
But most of it was hindsight, but, you know, you -- you have to have some professional input every once in a while, so --
So, we always enjoyed -- And Ole was re -- He used to come and talk to the industry. And then, you know, hang around, and kind of pick his brain and stuff like that, so. BOB KING: Yeah.
GARY JOHNSON: Yeah, but he was a neat guy. Really a neat guy. Knew his business.
BOB KING: Yeah. Tell me the -- Or, you said earlier that sometimes you don't -- you -- you didn't see eye to eye with some of the other cannery bosses. Or -- Or, not the bosses, but your bosses. GARY JOHNSON: Oh, yeah. Well, I can't say anything about that. And I don't want to. BOB KING: Yeah.
GARY JOHNSON: Because they -- you know, it's just -- I was taught one way, and sometimes they were taught different.
And I thought, like everybody else, you know, my way is the right way. Because I thought I was taught by some of the best people in the industry, and I respected that. And I --
And I didn't wanna let them down. Because they took sa -- a raw rookie outta the woods, and made a superintendent out of him. And I didn't wanna spoil their reputation.
So -- It was -- It -- It was hard sometimes. You know, you -- you get people that have -- you -- well, you've been around long enough, you know, that there's things that happen within the industry and the fishing grounds that -- whatever happens, you have no control over. And so --
And unless you're there, you don't know what happened. I mean, so -- I -- I remember one time, I had some fish that came in from the cannery. Well, off of one of the boats, and it wasn't very good.
And, I called up my boss and I says, "This stuff is bad. I'm gonna dump it." He said, "Oh, no." So I -- So, we put it in the Fish House, and I s -- start goin' through, ok, we got one -- one that way, and three that way. One that way and three that --
And we -- we took care of -- and I think out of about 30,000 pounds of fish, we saved about ten. You know, not 10,000, but ten fish. BOB KING: Right.
GARY JOHNSON: But, you know, like you say, unless you were there and actually smelled the fish, you -- you know, you can't say, "Well, they were only on the boat for a few hours." But they were enough to make 'em bad.
And that's why, you know, nowadays, you got refrigeration in all the boats. Our -- you know, I mean, not just ice and water. I mean, talkin' chargers and everything like that. It's completely different than when I was there, so --
BOB KING: Tell the story about Chuck Bundrant and his helicopter. GARY JOHNSON: Oh, Chuck?
Ok, Chuck was my boss when I worked for Alaska Packers, and he used to -- No, he was my boss when I worked for Alaska Packers, but he was Trident at that time. BOB KING: Right.
GARY JOHNSON: And he would -- I went and stole some of his fishermen one year. About, mm, I think it was ten of his highliners. I mean, HIGHliners. And they were tied up at my dock, right there b -- by the port shop (?), and they were all sittin' there drinkin' beer.
And Chuck came and landed his helicopter on my finger pier, and he walked around. I didn't see him, but anyway, he went down the -- a ladder to talk to the -- his fishermen, but they weren't at that time. They were my fishermen. And --
So, anyway, he went down there and talked to 'em and stuff like that, and he'd throwin' beer cans over on the mud, a little water. And so, number one, I kicked Chuck off the dock. Number two, I made the fishermen get down on the d -- and pick up all the beer cans.
And the next thing I knew, was the year was over, and we were merging with Trident Seafoods. Chuck Bundrant and me.
So, Chuck came over, and he looked at me, and he had a meeting with all the superintendents from Alaska Packers. And he looked at me and he says, "Ah." He says, "Now, I can land my helicopter on your dock." I says, "Chuck, you gotta remember -- It's not my dock anymore, it's your dock."
So, I don't know if that meant anything, but I went and built a finger pier, put a helicopter pad out there for the first year. The second year we had two helicopters, so I had to have another helicopter pad up by the office up on the top of the hill, which was right next to the gin mill, or "The Pit."
And the kids would always just play around that neck of the woods, and I was worried about the kids and the helicopter comin' in and landing. Even though I know that they would be real cautious of if there were any of the kids were around and stuff like that. But that didn't save a kid if a blade hits 'em.
So, what I did is I had a mothers' meeting of all the ladies from South Naknek in the mess hall. We had cake and coffee and stuff like that.
And I explained to 'em that here we have to have two helicopters this year, and I built a helicopter pad up by the office. I says, and I don't want any of the kids to get hurt. I says, "What are we gonna do?" That's the last word I said.
To this day, I've -- Well, I don't know. I don't ever remember that particular year havin' any kids come down there. Because if they got even partway -- They didn't just have one mother, they had 30 mothers after 'em.
And I didn't have to say a thing. I didn't have to talk to the ladies or anything like that. They -- They took care of everything themselves. (Door creaks)
GARY JOHNSON: Hi Benjamin! (speaking to his grandson who has just entered the room)
BOB KING: Doin' a little -- a little interview with Gary, so -- BENJAMIN RINGSMUTH: Hello.
BOB KING: Hi. Let me ask -- You -- You mentioned that you were able to to steal some fishermen away from Chuck Bun -- How did -- How do you go about stealing fishermen? GARY JOHNSON: Well, what you do is you go down and talk to 'em and ask 'em to deliver to you. BOB KING: Right.
GARY JOHNSON: And that's what he did. He went down there talked to 'em -- back in the -- go back and deliver back to him. Well, they -- they continued -- they honored the -- their word, and they delivered the fish to me that one year, but the next year they went right back to Chuck.
And -- And I think that was about the year that we go in the yellin' match with Chuck, and then we ended up merging after that. So --
BOB KING: What's your -- What's your favorite memory from working as superintendent or bookkeeper at South Naknek? GARY JOHNSON: My favorite memory is workin' with mothers of South Naknek about the kids and the helicopters. And not havin' to say a damn thing.
You know, the mothers took care of it and, you know, I supported 'em, and -- I think that -- that's my fondest memory.
But I -- I have so many memories, that it just -- it's hard to say. You know, it -- I just -- Couldn't remember any of the stuff.
BOB KING: But it was a good -- It was a good profession, it was a challenging job. GARY JOHNSON: Yeah, it was very challenging. But it was very rewarding. That was the big thing, was the reward. You know everybody would come up and say what a good job you were --
And I was needed. You know, if I had a fisherman out there -- I remember one time, I was sittin' there, gettin' ready -- I don't know, I was gettin' ready to -- I had the radios in my office, and my house, and everything like that.
And all of a sudden, somebody comes on the radio, a lady, says, "Gary! Gary! My husband is havin' a heart attack!" Well, she didn't give call letters, or say where she was or anything like that.
But based on the information that I had, I knew who she was, because I had recruited 'em a couple years ago -- that she was from -- I don't know if they were from Homer, but they were from that neck of the woods down there.
And her h -- So, I finally, I got ahold of Tim, and I had 'er get over to one of the big tenders that we had so Tim could land on. So we sent the hel -- I sent the helicopter down, and Tim went and picked the guy up, and s -- bought him back to the clinic on the north side.
And thank god, it was not a heart attack or anything like that. He was just passin' a gallstone. And I understand that that really hurts.
And so, she panicked, and, you know, that's -- that's all she would talk about the rest of the year. Bup bup bup. So --
BOB KING: But she called you? GARY JOHNSON: Yeah. No call letters. I had no idea where she was, but, you know, I asked her, "What tenders are in the vicinity?" and she named -- you know, she could see 'em, 'cause she was down there at -- they were in the line to deliver fish.
So, that's why I knew exactly where she was, because I sent the tender down there to pick up the fish, so --
BOB KING: You had a long and -- and successful career at -- with APA, and later Trident. And it was pretty re -- in a unique area, like South -- South Naknek. GARY JOHNSON: Well, we had -- We had multiple -- you know, we had -- Conagra was in there, too.
BOB KING: Right. GARY JOHNSON: By then. a couple years. And I -- there -- I still, to this day, I can't -- just before we were bought out by Sealaska.
Maybe it -- that was Sealaska we bought. It was Conagra, and then Sealaska, and then, when -- that's when we were in the battle with Trident, was -- we were Sealaska, and then we became Trident, so -- Yeah, I think it was Sealaska. BOB KING: Yeah. GARY JOHNSON: So.
BOB KING: Yeah. But it was a -- it was a -- it was a great career and it was a -- a tremendous amount of work, and -- and jobs, and -- and it's really interesting hearing your -- your discussion.
But, I mean, the personal relations with the -- the -- the cannery workers, the -- the mothers in the town, you know.
GARY JOHNSON: Well, I -- I still -- you know, Katie's workin' on these projects. And some -- you know who's givin' her a lotta the information? Bob Deere (sp?) who was my cannery foreman, and -- and, you know, and let's see -- Bob -- Bob -- Bill McKay, who was my stockroom man.
You know, people just -- they -- they kinda are on the way back, and they're tryin' to help her out as much as -- as I was tryin' to, you know, help them out in their tough times, but --
They were a lotta really neat people, you know.
BOB KING: Can you tell the story about when your daughter almost got you fired? GARY JOHNSON: She always did that. Did she -- When she was young, you know, she -- I think she was between 12 and 15 years old, maybe it was -- she was 15 to 16, but she wasn't 18.
And she would sneak down to the Egg House, and -- and either be packin' eggs, or -- or whatever.
And my bosses would go down there and see her. And they knew she wasn't old enough. And they'd come up there and say -- yell at me, and so I'd have to go down and say. "Katie, you can't do that. You can't go down there and work."
So she said, "Ok, Dad, I won't do it." Well, she had Yuk Yuwata and Bobby Sasaki strung right around her little thumb, and first thing I know, she'd be back in the Egg House.
So, I'd go down there, and I'd see her, and I -- I'd just kinda look around the other way and walk out. But they finally -- they said, "Ok."
So when my bosses show up, they had a sign that Katie was supposed to go and run up into the loft where all the boxes were and stay up there until they left, and then she'd come back down and pack the eggs.
So, they were against me, all of 'em. Against me and for me. I guess. I don't know exactly what you would call it, but it w -- it was funny. To a certain extent.
BOB KING: Yeah. Is there anything else -- Anything I missed, anything you'd like to say, anything -- anything --
GARY JOHNSON: No, but I -- I appreciate what you guys are doin'. I really do.
I mean, I kinda cracked up a couple times talkin' about people. And, you know, when we were at the -- down at the train station and stuff like that, because it hurts me right here.
And what -- I know what Katie is doin', and it pleases me to all end, that -- that they remember the cannery, and the people.
To me, it wasn't the cannery, it wasn't the job, it wasn't the pay or anything like that. It was the people. And, that's what I enjoyed. Their friendship.
You know, lotta times, we di -- we disputed, you know, we didn't see eye to eye on everything, but at the end of the day, we normally did.
But there was always -- you know, we got together as -- well, at the end of the season as friends. You know, we'd have a beer at the end of the season. Well, sometimes it was before the end of the season. But, you know. But --
BOB KING: That was -- There was one thing that I forgot to ask. Oh. After such an intense job that lasted for sev -- several months, it all comes to an end. What do you do when you go -- when you went back home? GARY JOHNSON: Ok, I fly home, usually the first part of August.
And I would meet my wife at the helicop -- or, at the airport. And we'd go play golf.
And then we'd stay overnight in Seattle, and play golf the next morning. And then we'd go back to Blaine.
And what I would do is, I'd walk into my bedroom, I'd take my watch, take it off, and put it on the counter. And I wouldn't even pretend to look at it until first of August, September, October.
Eh, usually middle of October I'd put my watch back on, and then all a sudden they would say, "Oh, where you been Gary?" And I says, "Well, it's 'bout time to get ready f -- we got another canning season, we've gotta go."
So, I sat down and said, "Ok, how many gloves we need? How many rubber gloves do we need? How many sliming knives do we need?"
And then start, you know -- "How many fish are we gonna catch? Oh, you mean you don't know?" So I'd have to call up Fish and Game, you know.
So, it was just -- But I didn't -- didn't even pretend to go to work there for a couple times.
I know, I got chewed out a couple times. But I was at the point then, you know, at the end of the season, after a long season, you know, sometimes, I didn't give a damn.
You know, and I figured I had enough support from my people, that they would have a hard time replacing me. Anybody can be replaced, don't get me wrong. But I just figured it would be just too hard. 'Cause I knew what entailed the job, I knew how to do it. And to me, it was easy.
And I had people that made my job easier that I could rely on. I mean, I had people in key positions that made my job a piece of cake.
So, you know, puttin' this cannery together, it was -- yes, it was hard, but I knew who to do -- deal with, you know.
You know, say you were -- belong to a -- a -- a co-op or somethin' like that, you could get me canned goods, you know. So, you got my cans. Next guy would give me the salt, and stuff like that.
And then we -- We all had lists from all my machinists at the end of the season. One thing they had to do was fill out what they needed for the next year.
And, you know, not -- but, you know, what -- How many, you know, screwdrivers they needed, or what mo -- well, they had to furnish their own tools, but, you know, say, you know, they needed somethin' for the particular part of their shop or somethin' like that.
And they had to fill out all of that stuff and -- and -- before we left.
And my stockroom man and I would go through all that stuff before we left. See, that's what I was doin' at the end of the season when we were only cannin' maybe three hours a day, or four hours a day.
I was signin' paychecks, gettin' the people out, and the stockroom man and I would sit down and -- in the old days, sit down there and smoke cigarettes in his --
And go through all the stuff that we needed for the next season. But -- And drink coffee. So --
BOB KING: Yeah. Well, that's great. LaRece, do you have any -- any questions or any thoughts?
LARECE EGLI: I guess my question would be -- You've talk a lot about the -- the family environment of all the workers and -- and those relationships.
But that doesn't sound like that presence was necessarily there before. And there was some of these segregation issues, you know, with the Filipino mess hall being separate. Can you talk a little bit about some of those changes in some of the other buildings -- GARY JOHNSON: Uh --
LARECE EGLI: -- that -- that -- that you, kind of, brought with your -- your presence?
GARY JOHNSON: Actually, you know, I -- The only families we really had up there -- 'Cause I didn't let my family go after the first season. It was just too hard on 'em.
But, usually, we had -- like, my first machinist. His wife c -- came up. And she was -- She worked in the mess hall as a waitress.
And -- But that -- Not too many fam -- The families were the ones that lived in the village, were the only families we really had at the cannery.
We had, like Carvel's wife. She was -- She worked for the laundry for me. You know, and he -- he ended up bein' the winterman. Well, he wasn't he winterman when I was there. He became winterman after I left. His brother was my winterman when I was there. And Carvel Sr. was the winterman. So --
But Shirley -- You know Shirley Zimin. Yeah, she worked for me in the laundry. And she's the one that I send to Anchorage to get my flowers for my flowerbeds. So --
BOB KING: But were -- were you familiar with a discussion of segregation issues, whether between the -- the Filipino crew, the -- the white crew, the college crew, the, I don't know, the Mexican. Whoever. And the like.
GARY JOHNSON: Oh yeah. Well, I spent all winter goin' to all that stuff. All the time. I'd fill out reports. It was a pain in the you-know-what. Because I didn't have that problem.
We had Filipinos? Yes, we had Filipinos. But we had white guys right next to 'em, Filipinos, workin'. And eatin'.
They were all eatin' in the same mess hall. The college kids -- white college kids were eatin' in the mess hall with the Filipinos. I had -- sat there and ate with the Filipinos. In the same mess hall. My daughter ate with 'em.
You know, I just -- just never -- Yes, we had -- we had Natives there. That -- That -- But they worked in the spring/fall. And they fished. I couldn't get 'em to work in the cannery to save their soul. They set up the spring/fall, and they fished for me. And that was fine.
They didn't wanna work in the canneries. And I -- I didn't wanna force 'em. And -- So --
But other than that, you know, we had no what you would call any Natives. Because they were -- everybody was workin' at the cannery or they were fishin' for me.
So, you know, we just never really had what I call any segregation problems. So -- 'Cause I --
Maybe some of the stuff that goes on nowadays, we just didn't have that problem. I mean, we just didn't have -- Segregation wasn't -- wasn't a problem.
BOB KING: Well, that's great. GARY JOHNSON: I mean --
LARECE EGLI: Yeah, that's great. I just wondered -- GARY JOHNSON: Yeah. LARECE EGLI: -- if you'd seen it while you were a superintendent -- GARY JOHNSON: Well, the -- yeah -- LARECE EGLI: -- did you encounter any of those issues? BOB KING: O -- GARY JOHNSON: -- I --
Well, I did, but I says, "Hey, we're not gonna have it. You either -- you either do it this way and let everybody come in there and eat with ya, or you don't -- or I close it down." That's plain and simple.
You have your Filipino mess hall? Fine. But the college kids wanna come in there and eat, they eat. If they don't, and if I hear anything or they get any problems, I'll close it down. Plain and simple. And they knew that's what I would do.
LARECE EGLI: The only other question I have is going back to the -- your -- your conversation, kind of, about the cannery functioning kind of like its own little city.
And you talked about, you know, having to get the water lines fired up, and -- GARY JOHNSON: Oh, yeah. LARECE EGLI: -- breaking everything down. GARY JOHNSON: Yeah. LARECE EGLI: Something you haven't -- And we've talked about food.
But some of the other infrastructure needs that I think are important to talk about is how you were able to flick that switch and turn on the lights, and --
GARY JOHNSON: Ok, well, that was the spri -- job of the spring/fall crew. They were there, they lived in the village. So, they could come to work at 8 o'clock in the morning, and work all day long.
When they were done, they didn't have to go to the bunkhouse that had no running water or anything. They went home. They had water and -- and stuff like that at home.
So, that's why I had the spring/fall crew. They would get the bunkhouses ready to go, they would get the toilets ready, the showers.
And they'd get the laundries -- we'd -- we'd get the beds made f -- for the machinists crew and the machinists bunkhouse. They would clean it up and go through and make all the beds and get the filip -- pillows out and stuff like that.
They'd take care of my place. And the office girls' bunkhouse. They'd take care of them. The ladies -- The bunkhouse -- the women's bunkhouse, they'd take care of that one and all that stuff. Now, that was in the spring.
In the fall, Shirley Zimin, she would take all these bunkhouse and get all the sheets and blankets and everything like that and put 'em in a great big washer. You should see the size of that sucker.
And she would wash 'em and get everything folded up, so in the spring when all -- everybody was doin' all these jobs and makin' the beds, they had fresh linen.
I mean, she worked in the fall, and that was her big job, was gettin' all the -- all the blankets ready to go and stuff like that.
And, you know, she would always send me a list. "You know, how many this, and this many pillowcases, and this many more sheets, and this many more blankets."
Not blankets, 'cause most of the time they were those old Army blankets. They were wool, and you couldn't destroy them with a gun. But -- It --
You know, it -- it was just -- If I had to take -- you know, I -- I could sit hours, findin' different things that different people did that I hadn't --
Well, yes, I had the idea that what they were doin'. But, you know, now, you wouldn't have any idea.
Now, somebody come in there fresh in the cannery, they would have no idea what a spring/fall crew would do. You have to have good people.
You know, Freddy Grindle, Carvel -- not Carvel Jr., but senior, 'cause you guys call him Carvel and I call him Junior. But, you know, they -- they had -- they had things that they had to do every spring, every fall.
You know, they had to get certain things done, and before -- before we could get the first barge comin' in with our provisions. So --
You had to get the freezers down to temperature. Had to get the wash machines and dishwashers work. All the washer -- We had two --
I think two washin' machines on each floor in each bunkhouse. And th -- And, you know, so every year we had to make sure they were all workin' at the beginning of the season.
And then, of course, we always had spare enough, because, you know, 18-year-old kids workin' in canneries, they don't know how to do laundry. They would destroy 'em as fast as we could keep 'em in -- goin', it seemed like.
But it -- But the spring cra -- fru -- spring/fall crew was very important. Very important.
And I think if you talk to Katie, she would -- she understands, too. Exactly what they meant. Not -- Well -- They meant to the cannery.
Actually, they made it -- they made my job easy. Because I would say, "Ok, I'm gonna be there a certain day, and I want this to be done when I get there." And basically, I wan -- I wanted coffee and donuts.
And I -- Like I said, I went up there, usually anywhere from two to five days early. Nobody else was in camp except me.
And that's when I went and Ca -- and Carvel and I would sit and walk -- we'd walk all around the cannery. What we had to do, what he thought we had to do, what was -- during the winter, what would deterior -- how many boards we lost, which ones we should be replacin'. How many they replaced and hadn't got to the other ones. How many piling that he suggested we replace.
And, you know, you go through, and, you know, I -- we got all of the washin' machines workin'. "How many order -- did you order this year?" I said, "Well I ordered the normal ones, about six or eight." He says, "Well, we can probably use two right off the bat."
You know, and so he and I would walk around the cannery, and -- and then we'd end up at the winterhouse, and, like I say, we'd be smokin' cigarettes and drinkin' coffee, and talkin' to Annie and -- and the kids, and so --
And Freddy Grindle, he was about yay big it seemed like, and kinda heavy, and meaner'n cat shit. 'Scuse my language. But he was the neatest guy I ever saw. A --
But he was a mechanic like you wouldn't believe. He could fix anything.
You know, you have an old D2 CAT out there, and is havin' problems, and he go there, "Mm, yeah, okay." And one of the big ones and -- just -- just -- real -- real gentleman, you know.
Never -- never a bad word said among us ever. Unless -- Like I say, unless we're playin' basketball. But, it was, you know, just really a pleasure to work with those people.
And the reason I did, is when were were sittin' down and drinkin' coffee and smokin' cigarettes, I was -- told 'em everything -- see, everything I did at the cannery, we had to have a budget for. You know, capital budgets, or just a regular working w -- budget and stuff like that.
So, I'd sit down, and I'd bring out this paperwork. And I says, "Ok. This is what I plan on doing this year. We're gotta replace this particular machine, we're gonna move this cannery from here to there, we're gonna replace this, and -- "
You know, and I'd -- ma -- let 'em feel what we're do -- we're not gonna come in there and destroy your village or anything like that. We're gonna come in there and try to make the cannery better, for both you and us.
And I want them to know exactly what we're tryin' to do, or what we wanted to do that particular season. Because every season's different.
You have to -- you know, 'cause you -- number one, you don't have time to do anything, 'cause, you know, you go up there Mother's Day, and then pretty soon its f -- fishin' season starts.
I mean, you know, first of May, you know, you're -- you're talking -- all the herring boats are leavin'. So, what's that mean? That means all the m -- machinists have to be workin', either on -- to get the boats ready to go, and the port engineers have to get 'em tuned up and ready to go.
So, if -- There's a lotta work to be done before the season even starts -- even gets close to startin'. So --
And then the -- you know, the herring season's kinda put a -- it used to be easy, we didn't have to worry too much. And then all of a sudden, herring, golly, they start in May. W -- We didn't even go up until May. So --
BOB KING: That's a great story. Unless you have anything else, any other -- other questions. I really appreciate you takin' the time. This has been a long time. GARY JOHNSON: Oh, well --
BOB KING: Sorry for dragging this out. LARECE EGLI: Yeah. GARY JOHNSON: No, I -- It's not -- like my wife says, "You get Gary talkin' about -- gee. he'll talk your leg off. He'll start talkin' about canneries and stuff like that." Because, like I said, that's where my cannery is, right here.
BOB KING: Well, I appreciate it. That's a great way to bring it to an end. But th -- thanks again, Gary, and -- and --
GARY JOHNSON: Oh, you're welcome, very much.